by Penny K. (Cooper) Bailey
Shell Knob was established when Henry and Elizabeth Yoachum Schell built a trading post on the banks of the White River in 1835. The location was at the foot of what is now called Shell Knob Mountain, just off of Hwy. YY. The “C” in Schell was somehow left off the name when the post office was established in 1872.
Jack and Cordelia Kearney owned one of the first stores built in “Old Shell Knob” in the 1860s. (The couple was later murdered in 1869 in their store, and their murderer was the last person hanged in Barry County).
The little town continued growing slowly. There were a couple of stores, two churches, a school, a blacksmith shop and both a public well and scale. Little changed in 1932 with the completion of Hwy. 86* (the “new” state highway from Cassville to Shell Knob, a distance of 20 miles) which made it possible to travel over the same ground by automobile in minutes what had been a three-day round trip by oxen cart. The town shifted, stores were relocated, growing in number to three, sometimes four, stores. The blacksmith shop was gone, but our sleepy little town remained basically the same.
Ashly Mixon Tomato Cannery–1922
The only industry in the area was a canning factory, which was short lived. The area families were basically self-supporting, growing their own vegetables, raising cattle and hunting. As many of the old timers would say, it was “make do or do without.”
It became necessary for some of the men, and sometimes whole families, to travel to places like Oklahoma, Kansas or California looking for work. But roots run deep here in the hills, and most of them would return year after year to their home in Shell Knob.
We had our feuds, robberies and killings. But we also had our church gatherings, music parties, “shivarees” and a strong sense of community.
The town changed drastically when the dam was built in 1959, and Table Rock Lake was formed soon after. A new highway was built in the 1970s, bypassing the town and leaving “Old Shell Knob” on the side.
We now have all the conveniences of a larger town. But sometimes, early in the morning when the fog is lifting out of the valleys, I can still imagine I am sitting by a wood stove at Whisman’s General Store, listening to all the old stories. Some of them were even true.
* Note: Road numbers were changed after the dam and lake were built.